The Meaning of Whilst: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of whilst? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word whilst, including its definition, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the word whilst mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, the English word whilst (pronunciation: ) is an adverb that means during or while. The word whilst is used in both America and parts of Europe; namely, England and the UK. This word can often be interchangeably used with the word while; the main difference is that while can be used as a conjunction, noun, preposition or verb, whereas whilst can only be used as an adverb or conjunction, per Grammar

There are many different languages that also use words that mean whilst. You may notice that many of these words look and sound similar to the word whilst. These are college cognates, which are words and phrases that look and sound alike while retaining a similar meaning across languages. These are often formed when two words have the same root or language of origin, such as Latin or Greek. This list of translations for the word whilst is provided by Word Sense.

  •  Dutch: terwijl‎
  •  Maori: keiwhā‎, koi‎
  •  French: tandis que‎, pendant que‎
  •  Portuguese: enquanto‎
  •  Catalan: mentre que‎
  •  Swedish: medan‎
  •  Indonesian: seraya‎
  •  Spanish: mientras que‎
  •  Hebrew: בזמן ש‎
  •  Russian: пока́‎; в то вре́мя, как‎; во вре́мя‎
  •  Turkish: Aynı zamanda‎
  •  Ido: dum ke‎
  •  Arabic: فِي حِين‎, بَيْنَمَا‎
  •  West Frisian: wylst‎

What is the origin of the word whilst?

According to Etymonline, the word whilst is an adverb that has been used since the late 14th century. This alteration of whiles comes from the word while with an adverbial genitive s added to the end, and an etymological t, such as in the world amidst. This is related to the West Frisian wylst. 

The word while has a storied history of its own. This noun and verb comes from the Old English hwile, the accusative of hwil meaning a space of time. This comes from the Proto-Germanic hwilo, which is also the source of the Old Saxon hwil, Old Frisian hwile, Old High German hwila, German Weile, Gothic and hveila. This word comes from the Proto-Indo-European root kwi-lo meaning to rest or be quiet. Related words include, amidst, awhile, erstwhile, meanwhile, somewhile, time, whilom, wile, and worthwhile

How can the word whilst be used in a sentence?

The word whilst can be used in a variety of different circumstances in the English language, in both American and British English. Below are a few examples of the word whilst in the following dialogs.

Whilst the internet was down, Maisy decided to use the time to research her history paper topic at the library. It felt good to be around the walls of books, and helped her focus on her assignment.

Whilst in jail, the criminal took the time to reflect on his actions and change his future for the better. He no longer wished to have a life of crime. 

Martha told the children to go and play whilst she tried to register them for summer camp. They decided to create a new fun activity where they pretended the different types of buildings were monsters out to get them. 

Aretha sought to make the most of her life abroad in Britain; she visited every tourist spot, and lived as a local for a year – she even tried learning all of the different English dialects. 

Whilst in New Zealand, the man learned the various names of sports and various animal names that were different from America. He wrote these words on a new list, in spite of the fact that he has his own lists of New Zealand changes already.

The word whilst is very versatile and can be used in a variety of phrases and sentences. This word is considered more on the formal or polite end. While it is still acceptable to use in a casual scenario like an SMS text message or on social media, it may feel out of place. This is a great word to use in a more formal or professional situation such as a business email, professional letter, or other such polite setting or circumstance. Try to incorporate the word whilst or another word of the day into a sentence today – it might become one of your new favorite words. 

What are synonyms for the word whilst?

There are many different words that a person can use in place of the word whilst. These are called synonyms, which are words and phrases that have the same definition as another word or phrase. Synonyms are useful terms to learn if you are trying to avoid repeating yourself as well as if you are trying to expand your English language vocabulary. This list of synonyms for the word whilst is provided by Thesaurus.

  •  in the time
  •  in the interim
  •  when
  •  in the course of
  •  all along
  •  although
  •  in the time of
  •  in the meanwhile
  •  as
  •  during the time
  •  the time between
  •  at the same time as
  •  for the time being
  •  pending
  •  while
  •  during
  •  throughout the time
  •  throughout
  •  all the while
  •  in the middle of
  •  the whole time
  •  midst
  •  mid
  •  meanwhile
  •  at the same time
  •  until
  •  at the time
  •  over
  •  amid

Overall, the word whilst is an adverbial conjunction that is used in both British English and American English to mean during or while. This word is more commonly used in British English than in American English, but both languages still accept its usage. The word whist can often be used in place of the word while, but the word while has more opportunities for use. It is a bit of a “who” versus “whom” situation. 

Sources:

  1. whilst: meaning, origin, translation | Word Sense 
  2. WHILST Synonyms: 6 Synonyms & Antonyms for WHILST | Thesaurus 
  3. whilst | Origin and meaning of whilst | Online Etymology Dictionary 
  4. Whilst | Definition of Whilst by Merriam-Webster 
  5. “While vs. Whilst | Grammar 
  6. while | Origin and meaning of while | Online Etymology Dictionary